Anybody who has been paddleboarding on the ocean or harbours within the UK will have experienced the tide. Some days you’ll head to the beach and the water will be lapping up near the car park, other days you might have to walk 100’s of meters to get to the water’s edge. Or sometimes in a harbour, the water will have completely disappeared!
You may have even felt the effect of tides whilst paddleboarding, in one direction it feels really easy and quick, but coming back is much harder work.
Understanding the tide can be a little confusing because every day the time and height of the tide changes. But it is a must if you want to paddleboard safely on the ocean.
If you are new to paddle boarding, or have only been on inland lakes, then a great question to ask is ‘when is the best tide for paddleboarding?’
Table of Contents
When is the best tide for paddleboarding?
The safest and best tide for paddleboarding in the UK will be during slack water, which is roughly an hour either side of high or low tide. This is because the water is stationary and the tide is not moving in any direction.
This slack water happens because the tide has come in or gone out as far as it can and is about to turn around and head in the opposite direction.
For beginners, paddleboarding is most fun when the water is still and the current is weak. During slack water, you can focus on learning new skills and not have to worry about choppy water (depending on the wind) or drifting away.
Advanced paddleboarders who are looking for waves may look for slightly different tidal states. On many UK beaches, the best and biggest surf is normally on an incoming tide (from low to high) and quite often 2 or 3 hours before high tide.
When is the worst tide for paddleboarding?
In most locations, the worst and least safe tide state for beginners to go paddleboarding will be mid-tide.
At high or low tide the water is slack and the current is weak, whereas during mid-tide the body of water is moving at its quickest and most powerful.
The time between high and low tide is just over 6 hours, and mid-tide will be between these two times. It’s almost always advisable to avoid the middle 2 hours, this is when the current will be at its strongest. During this time you will drift very quickly and the strong current may create choppy water which will make it hard to balance.
Water depth also factors into the strength of the tide. Generally speaking, the deeper the water the stronger the current, so if you are uncertain about the tide, it’s always safest to stay close to the shore.
Hour of tide and its strength
As there are roughly 6 hours between high and low tide, this basic rule demonstrates the power of the current at each hour interval.
– High or low tide
1st hour – Weak current
2nd hour – Medium current
3rd hour – Strong current
4th hour – Strong current
5th hour – Medium current
6th hour – Weak current
– Low or high tide
This is a very basic rendition of the rule of 12th’s, which demonstrates the amount of water flow during each hour between high and low tide.
The only time you may want to paddleboard during mid-tide is if you have a well-planned route that will take most of the day. You can use the stronger currents in your favour to get to where you want to go quicker.
Using tides in this way is only for experienced paddle boarders who know the area extremely well.
Is it best to paddleboard at high or low tide?
It all depends on the location as to whether it’s best to paddleboard at high tide or low tide.
This makes it extra important that you understand where you are paddleboarding and how the tide affects conditions.
Where I live in Chichester Harbour, high tide is best for paddleboarding because there is no water during low tide, making it impossible to paddleboard! Whilst this might make it obvious when to go paddleboarding, I’ve had friends who left the beach just after high tide and returned 2 hours later to find muddy banks and nowhere to exit the water. It can get quite scary if this happens to you.
If your beach has a steep shingle bank, then you may find there is shore dump at high tide. Shore dump is when you see waves crash (dump) directly onto the beach. This makes it tricky and not very safe to enter and exit the water. You’ll need great timing between the waves, otherwise, you and your board may get dumped onto the beach – not fun at all!
It’s also worth noting high tides can hide rocks and other objects that are just under the surface of the water, so bear that in mind if the tide turns and starts heading out.
Low tides can bring a variety of conditions, depending on your location.
If there is no swell and little wind, low tide can be perfect for beginners who want to paddleboard on the ocean. On many sandy beaches, low tide means the water stays shallow for quite some distance, so you can gain confidence and your sea legs without having to go out of your depth.
However, if there is some swell and the tide starts coming in from low tide, you may find waves start crashing and the surfers will come out to play. This can also be a lot of fun for experienced paddle boarders who want to ride the waves.
Compared to some parts of the world, many of our UK beaches have a large tidal range. The tidal range is the difference in height between high and low tide – The tide comes in a long way, and goes out a long way.
If you are planning a low tide ocean paddle, be prepared to walk with your board some distance before getting to the water!
Tides for paddleboarding – what else to know
What is a tide?
A great definition of tides is the horizontal and vertical movement of the ocean’s surface water. Meaning, the tide goes in and out, but also up and down.
Tides occur due to the gravitational pull of the moon and sun, plus the earth’s own rotation. The moon is literally trying to pull the ocean towards it, which creates a bulge of water nearest where the moon is. This bulge of water will be a high tide.
Spring and neap tides
To add another layer of complexity to tides, you may have heard the term ‘neap tides’ or ‘spring tides’. This is worth knowing because there will be a spring tide every 2 weeks.
A spring tide is when the sun and moon are in alignment, and this extra gravitational force creates higher high tides and lower low tides. When spring tides occur, the tide will come in a lot further but also go out a lot further and creates the largest tidal range (difference in height between high and low).
This also means the strongest currents will be mid-tide during springs.
Conversely, a neap tide is when the moon and sun’s gravitational pull is not aligned and therefore has the least effect on the tides. During neaps you will notice the high tide is not as high, but also low tide isn’t as low as normal.
A neap tide will happen 7 days after a spring tide.
Unlike the weather, tides are very predictable. We know the moon’s rotation around the earth, and the earth’s rotation around the sun so we can work out with great accuracy when high and low tides will occur.
We will get 2 high tides and 2 lows tides most days, but each day the time of tide slightly changes.
The reason why tides aren’t at the same time every day is that there is roughly 6 hours and 12 minutes between high and low tides.
Where can I get tide information?
You probably got to this blog by Googling something like ‘best tide for paddleboarding’, and your same source applies to finding tide times. Searching ‘Tide times (location)’ will give you the best websites for tide times. These websites make it very easy to read a tide chart and will clearly state the time and height of tide each tide for the next 7 days.
Useful tide times websites:
If you are still unsure about the tides in your area, speak to some local experts. Any paddleboard, surf or windsurf shop will have great knowledge about the area and they will be able to tell you exactly where and when to paddleboard, and what to avoid.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.